Pi for tea

Debunking Programming on the Raspberry Pi: the return of Cambridge style computing

This blog is about programming in general, specifically how the Commodore 64 prevented me and millions of other would be programmers from creating any programs which used colour, graphics, or sound, apart from coloured text.

This statement is, of course, a lie; the author can’t produce even a shred of evidence to demonstrate that “millions of other would be programmers” were somehow prevented from creating programs on the C64; it might be true of the author of course, but at the same time we have to look at his “body of work” on other systems since then and that could equally indicate that the issues lie at his feet rather than the little rubber ones on the C64.

These would be programmers either gave up and just played games, bought a package to produce very restricted or limited games, such as “Game Maker” by Activision, “Shoot ‘em Up Construction Kit” by Sensible Software/Outlaw, or sold the C64 and bought another computer.

And yet there are more homebrew programs for the C64 than just about any other system. As noted previously, for a system that “prevented” people from learning there were quite a few who did and demonstrably more than learnt on many other 8-bit systems.

Finally, in 2012, a computer called the Raspberry Pi was released. This is a computer produced not for profit, linked to Cambridge, with a large range of free open source software. The Commodore C64 culprit Jack Tramiel (the one who laid down the specs, but reused Commodore BASIC V2 for it) must be turning in his grave by now!

The C64 wasn’t open source and was produced as a consumer item to make a profit but that’s equally true of products from Apple, Sinclair, Amstrad, Tangerine, Acorn, Atari and indeed everybody else in the computing industry of the 1980s so the author’s singling out of Commodore in this way is nothing short of childish, idiotic bias.

Things started to change in 1985, when the Amstrad CPC664, as well as the portable Spectravideo SVI-738 X’Press MSX were released, each aimed at “home users” and equipped with a built in disk drive! Unfortunately, neither of these computers sold many units, because the Amstrad CPC664 was replaced by the CPC6128 after 4 months, while the Spectravideo SVI-738 X’Press suffered from distribution problems.

And, since sales have been mentioned, we shall pause to remember that the C64 outsold all three of the above combined, several times over. And, since the C64 had at least the same percentage of its user base programming as the machines mentioned by the author, that equates to more programmers too.

I’m proud to tell you that, apart from several classic computers, I also own a Raspberry Pi computer!

Your correspondent currently owns two Raspberry Pis, one of which is an early model B ordered on the day of release; this is the RasPi your correspondent takes to retro gaming events as an emulation system – here it is at Play Blackpool earlier this year, running a recent Apple II game called Retro Fever next to your correspondent’s CF-converted Amiga 600HD which is playing Downfall:

A model B Raspberry Pi with HDMI to VGA converter, running an Apple II emulator

A model B Raspberry Pi with HDMI to VGA converter

The people behind the project include Dave “Elite” Braben, who learnt to program in BASIC and 6502 Assembler on an upgraded Acorn Atom, creating 3D vector graphics, before moving on to a BBC Micro. This experience enabled him to learn to program in 6502/6510 Assembler on the C64, but if he’d started out on a C64 I think he’d probably have given up.

The author can’t even guess at if David Braben would have used BASIC V2 when producing the C64 version of Elite so really isn’t equipped for the level of supposition in the paragraph above. It’s almost insulting to insinuate that one of the more creative programmers of the twentieth century would struggle in the same feeble-minded way the author did and forgets that many very competent programmers started out on the C64 as well.

The Raspberry Pi project is about encouraging people to study programming again. Dave Braben mentioned in an interview about the Raspberry Pi project a lot of the same attitude as that behind the original BBC Micro and Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers.

Here’s a direct quote from the About Us page of Raspberry Pi Foundation’s website with some emphasis from your correspondent:

the end of the dot-com boom; and the rise of the home PC and games console to replace the Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines that people of an earlier generation learned to program on.

In other words, the foundation that David Braben is a member of believes that people learned to program on the C 64, which is completely at odds with what the author has repeatedly claimed. And in a similar vein it’s also worth noting that the Raspberry Pi’s Raspian operating system is a distribution of Linux, an operating system developed by Linus Torvalds whose interest in programming started with the Commodore VIC 20. It’s possible that we wouldn’t have had the Raspberry Pi without Jack Tramiel’s company![1]

Technology has moved on, so the Raspberry Pi seems to only have a bootstrap program on ROM, which loads the file kernal.img from SD card, so users certainly aren’t stuck with just one or two built in or Copyrighted programming languages.

“Moved on” in the sense that it’s gone back to what computers did before the 8-bits and their ROM-based BASIC dialects. The author’s “knowledge” of computing history is laughable at best and should only be read as an amusement.

The Raspberry Pi is marketed mainly for teaching programming, so that’s what most users should be doing with it.

This is of course bilge; the machine was originally envisioned as a cheap platform for teaching programming to children so your correspondent or the author owning one is actually at odds with that initial concept, but even before the hardware was released for public use the developers themselves were doing things like running Quake on it to demonstrate the possibilities. And what the Raspberry Pi’s users should be doing is what they want to be doing because it is, after all, their computer; that can be running Minecraft servers or playing Quake, surfing the web, word processing, embedding the hardware in their own projects or emulating 8-bit systems. And some owners will use it for programming in exactly the same way that only some Commodore, Sinclair, Amstrad or Atari users did in the 1980s and 1990s.

[1] This leap of logic might seem quite hefty but is still significantly more realistic than almost every single one taken by the author.

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